japanese art, design and culture
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Japan’s Hit Products of 2012

It’s that time of year again – another year another trend. Time to look back on Japan’s best products of 2012, according to (PDF) ad agency Dentsu.

Take it with a grain of salt but I always find it fun to remember what the collective psyche of Japan was thinking about these last 12 months. Curious about what was big last year or the year before? Check out the previous lists.

1. Smartphones

image source: Apple

I’m beginning to sound like a broken record because, for the 3rd year in a row, smartphones are number 1 on the list. The Japanese just really love their technology. Earlier in the year ComScore reported that “Smartphones surpassed feature phones as the most acquired device type” in Japan. Google’s Android accounts for about 65%, followed by Apple with about 32%. Ok, I’m putting myself to sleep. Let’s move on.

2. Tokyo Sky Tree

image source: TOBU TOWER SKYTREE CO., LTD.

The highly anticipated opening of Tokyo Sky Tree in May of this year helped push the world’s tallest free standing tower up 1 notch on the list. It’s being reported that “visitors have to wait several hours on weekends and more than an hour on weekdays to buy a same-day entrance ticket. Attendance has been much stronger than anticipated, prompting the operator to make upward revisions to their forecasts, which now call for 6.4 million visitors by its one-year anniversary.

3. Facebook

image source: facebook.com

Zuckerburg and his social network catapulted up to 3rd after being buried in the high-twenties last year. Ever since launching their presence in Japan in 2008 the website has struggled to gain users in the face of Japanese web culture, which has historically discouraged sharing personal information online. But two incidents appear to have shifted the way Facebook is perceived in Japan, and the Japanese now seem to be overcoming their online shyness.

Understandably, the Social Network and Jesse Eisenberg’s award-winning portrayal of Zuckerberg helped make Facebook more approachable. Unexpectedly, last year’s Tohoku earthquake and tsunami helped shift attitudes as the site played an important role in helping spread important information and connecting lost ones.

A survey done earlier this year “put Facebook in the No. 1 position in Japan for the first time, ahead of Twitter and onetime leader Mixi.”  But perhaps the most telling indicator of how times have changed is this student survey that showed that 2 years ago the most-used SNS was mixi, at 97%. This year? 2%.

4. Robot Cleaners

image source: SHARP

Benefiting, in part, from number 1, high-tech robot cleaners that can be controlled from your smartphone climbed up on the list. Well-designed models in a variety of colors, coupled with a drastic price reduction, has made them more accessible than ever in the household.

5. Salted Rice Malt

image source: misoya.com

Replacing edible rayu as the year’s most sought-after condiment was salted rice malt. Although the traditional condiment, made from fermented malted rice, salt and water, has been used in Japan for decades, only recently did it come into the spotlight as a trendy way to stay fit and look good. It got picked up by several media outlets as part of an enzyme diet, which has been steadily gaining popularity. It then got boosts from various celebrities who wrote about how they use it to cook. The list includes Takako Uehara, Yuko Ogura, Jun Komori, Aya Ishiguro, … moving on…

6. Sugi-chan

Sugi-chan is a popular comedian whose tough-guy parodies brought him to fame in 2012 and landed his catchphrase, “wairudo daro” (wild, isn’t it), at the top of Japan’s top buzzwords for 2012.

7. Local Mascot Characters

image source: asahi.com

Japan takes their mascots seriously. TV networks have mascots, milk has a mascot, blood has a mascot. There’s even a school where people go to study how to become mascots. But if you were a mascot in 2012 you only wished you were a local municipality mascot – those guys were killing it! Above is Kumamon, the mascot for Kumamoto prefecture and arguably one of the most popular local mascots. It was designed by iconic art director Mizuno Manabu.

8. AKB48

image source: HMV

To borrow the words of The Bruce Dickinson, these girls put their mini-skirts on just like the rest of us – one leg at a time. Except once their mini-skirts are on they make gold records! Indeed, a look at the top 10 singles of 2012 confirms that AKB48 (and their spinoffs) dominate spots 1 -4, as well as 7, 8 and 9. Sigh…. Let’s move on.

9. London Olympics

Japan historically performs better in the summer Olympics, rather than the winter Olympics. So it’s understandable that the country was glued to the games, which ran from July 27 – August 12. Although Japan slipped to 11th in medal count (from 5th in 2004 and 8th in 2008), the country was nonetheless proud of its athletes.

10. Low-cost carriers (LCC)

Japan is “finally discovering the joy of flying cheap, with the arrival this year of three low-cost carriers.” Pictured above is Peach Aviation, Japan’s first low-cost carrier, which was followed by AirAsia Japan and Jetstar. We’ll see if the trend sticks and, if indeed, the airlines convince a notoriously workaholic country to take a vacation.

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